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  • Dear Peter, Thank you for all your help. I could not have done it without you. Rabinder.
Friday, 21 February 2014 07:42

Is Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury to be closed by KCC?

A link to this article from another website, means that some browsers are unaware I have updated it with a fresh article above, here

There are convincing rumours in Canterbury, backed up by an article in the Kentish Gazette, that Chaucer Technology School is to close at the end of the school year. An official announcement of the situation and plans for the school will be sent to parents on Tuesday (25th), and I will update this article when I see the KCC statement that day. i.e. before school allocations are made on 3rd March. You will find the following statement from Kent County Council on the school website and which was also sent to parents. It is hardly designed to comfort families although it is difficult to know what else the Council can do at short notice, given what appears to be an unplanned and unauthorised leak of information. 

Kent County Council regrets that an article speculating on the closure of Chaucer School has appeared in the press. We recognise that parents, pupils and staff may now be anxious about the school. We will inform staff and write to every parent next week to clarify the situation.

In one sense, this dreadful situation is no surprise for, as readers of this website will know,I have reported on the school's downwards spiral for some years, from its previous standing as being a very popular school. You will find my most recent article here. Even as recently as 2010, the school’s 235 places were all awarded on allocation day, with 163 families making Chaucer their first choice.  A few years previous to that I was handling appeals for admission to the school, which was bi-lateral running a popular grammar stream open only to those who had passed the Kent Test, alongside a non-selective section which was heavily oversubscribed........

 The slump appears to have set in the next year in 2011 when just 139 places were offered to Year 7 children, even before successful appeals to grammar schools reduced this further. Although an OFSTED Report that year found the school to be ‘Satisfactory’ with good leadership, it is clear that parents were already voting with their feet. The headteacher resigned suddenly before a subsequent OFSTED in February 2013 that plunged the school into ‘Special Measures’, leaving the school with acute financial problems requiring 28 staff to be laid off at the end of last summer. A follow-up Monitoring Inspection in June 2013 noted that governors were unaware of the financial shortfall, and was also highly critical of Kent County Council’s failures:Governors recognise that they have been negligent in their monitoring duties and now wish to strengthen their influence, knowledge and expertise. To this end they have sought an external review of governance from the local authority. This has not been prioritised by the local authority and no date has been offered. Leaders are still waiting to know if the local authority intends to establish an Interim Executive Board to assume responsibility for the finances and leadership of the school. The local authority’s lack of urgency in this matter is unacceptable”.

The Oasis Academy Chain had agreed to take over the school, but pulled out, probably recognising the problems were insurmountable, and Swale Academies Trust took up oversight, preparing for it to become a Sponsored Academy under their control. The second Monitoring Report just three months ago in November, is complimentary about the Trust and records: “During this monitoring visit, a new Chair of the Governing Body was elected. The governors also voted to dissolve the existing Chaucer Trust in favour of an immediate return to community status, thereby enabling the local authority to take a strategic role alongside the Executive Principal in resolving the financial difficulties reported in the first monitoring visit. Governors no longer have delegated responsibilities for the financial management of the school. Governors and the local authority share a resolute commitment to securing sustainable leadership for the school through a formal sponsorship agreement with the Swale Academies Trust and conversion to academy status... Following the judgement at the first monitoring inspection, the local authority has taken appropriate steps to ensure that the statement of action is fit for purpose. Actions in relation to the necessary points for improvement are clearly identified and within a set timescale. Local authority officers fully acknowledge the urgent need to secure a sustainable future for the school, underpinned by leadership with a proven track record of success. With this in mind, subsequent to the first monitoring visit, they took immediate action to commission the intervention of the Swale Academies Trust. They have conducted a comprehensive audit of need in relation to secondary school placements within the locality and are entirely clear of the need for this school to serve its local community. They are presently working with the Executive Principal, in frequent dialogue with the Department for Education, to move the school to academy status as quickly as possible. A plan to reorganise the school’s building stock has been agreed, with the necessary renovations and refurbishment included. Local authority officers have committed to recommend to members the underwriting of the school’s budgetary deficit in order to expedite matters. At the time of this visit, officials from the Department for Education await confirmation of this commitment in writing”.

Thus,  in November last, Kent County Council appeared committed to bale out the school, in order to pass it on to Swale Academies Trust. In January it is reported that at a meeting of parents, the school and Swale Academies Trust announced that "the academisation process WOULD complete (making reference to the Oasis debacle), and that this time, the Order/Agreement had already been signed by the Secretary of State for Education  – so it was all systems go for transferral to Swale Academy". But, it now appears something has happened to change its mind.

Two thoughts. Firstly, only 57 children took up places last September, in spite of the school having attracted an initial 58 first preferences. This means that 62% of the school’s 150 places in Year Seven are empty, even after the Admission Number was slashed from 235 to 150. For entry this September coming, it is reported there are just 27 first preferences, less than half of last year’s disastrous figures which surely means the school is becoming financially and practically non-viable.

Secondly, there are clearly still severe financial debts run up under the previous management, which would become the responsibility of the Local Authority in the event of the school becoming an academy. All this at a time when KCC is itself under severe financial pressure to cut back on all unnecessary expenditure. 

Sadly, as is pointed out in a comment below, although academic results have recently improved in the school, it appears to late to save the school, given the dramatic fall in numbers and the financial problems. GCSE 5 A-Cs including English and maths have leapt from three consecutive poor years in the 30-40% range to 51% for summer 2013. The school also claims it is on target to improve this further for the coming summer. 

The Local Authority can close the school down now it has taken it back into Community status, for there are sufficient vacant places in the Canterbury District to absorb fewer than 600 displaced students of Chaucer Technology College in September, but it would be a squeeze, with a possible need to utilise The Community College, Whitstable that has the most vacancies, along with Spires Academy. A previous article relating to Barton Court Grammar school also looks at some of the local issues. Please don't think I am simply dismissing the possible changes of school, which would be quite traumatic and future damaging for so many young people, at a critical time of their lives. 

The school has extensive grounds, so much so that apparently Swale Academies Trust was able to come up with a proposition to sell 22 acres to fund a £4.7 million overhaul of the buildings. It now looks as if the land might become a significant financial asset for Kent County Council! The buildings, designed to cater for some 1500 students, currently holding 620, and with significant investment in them over the past few years are a different matter.  

Ironically, if the school had completed its ambition to become an academy under the leadership of the previous Principal, then there would have been no question of closure.  This also would have been the case if the Oasis scheme or the Swale Academies Trust plans to turn it into a sponsored academy had come to fruition. For the Local Authority has no powers over an academy, as can be seen in the cases of the three schools with even higher vacancy rates than Chaucer, all running at more than two thirds empty in Year 7, and all on a downward slide in terms of numbers: Oasis Academy, Hextable; Marlowe Academy; and High Weald Academy, Cranbrook. Surely, they also are all running out of funds, and indeed several have made heavy staff cuts to try and head off disaster. Bankruptcy?

Indeed only last year KCC completed a controversial secondary school closure in Deal, when the Local Authority maintained Walmer Science College was closed down, and its assets transferred to the Castle Community College, an academy. Decisions on the future of schools now clearly depend on whether they are academies. However, KCC with the responsibility for strategic planning for schools in Kent, can only make decisions on schools that are not academies. Once again, another nonsense situation because of the current chaos. 

My recall of such matters goes back over nearly thirty years, and takes in just two other secondary schools closed without replacement, both because of falling rolls in their district both in Gravesham a quarter of a century ago. Two others (Wildernesse and Walmer) were effectively closed by being incorporated into more popular schools in recent years. This would be the first ever to close purely because of poor management, but I suspect won't be the last!    

 

Last modified on Sunday, 02 March 2014 16:12

15 comments

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:05 posted by chaucer student

    clearly the land is more important than anyones education.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 22:10 posted by s sonal

    Could you find out if it is true that Swale Academies Schools are now taking over the North school in Ashford? its suspicious that Swale Academies let Chaucer school close and then go to North school. Could it be that they might make more money out of North school and Chaucer is closed because Swale Academies knows the school needs a lot of investment. Are Swale Academies selling out Chaucer children to make money out of North school. I thank you for looking into this for me and other concerned persons. PETER: My information is that negotiations for this takeover are far advanced. I cannot comment on your suspicions.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 21:59 posted by Louise

    As a parent of a year 9 pupil at Chaucer I cannot express how devastated I feel for my child ,as a previous comment said these children have made their friendship groups ,friendship is so important at this age and I'm sure will have a lasting effect .I have been happy with the school and my child is very happy ,I feel as a parent we have been treated appallingly by kcc even today when contacting kcc I was unable to speak to anyone and told by the receptionist that it was all speculation which I knew was not so due to speaking to another secondary school .There have been no meetings no one to answer to now Im left with one very unhappy child ,who I know is going to be offered a school that my child or myself do not want to attend. PETER: Sadly, you are not alone. I feel the reported response from KCC is unacceptable. Do those at the other end of the phone not realise the stress you are under. Courtesy and respect cost nothing.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 19:35 posted by Proud Chaucer student

    I'm in year 11 at Chaucer and was in the assembly where the man from Westlands school told us our school is going to be shut forever. He just kept going on about how "cynical" we were and it seemed like he knew he was guilty of closing our school. He told us we had the best results in Canterbury but we needed to shut because teaching was bad. I had never seen this man before and he acted like he wanted to fight us. Was he the one who decided our school should SHUT??? I'm in my last year and already have a C grade in Maths / B grade in English Lang . Theteachers who helped me get these grades are the best! I would like to know how could teaching at Chaucer be bad if the results are better than other schools in Canterbury. Why isn't that man closing those schools if their results are worse than Chaucers. It is just wrong.

    AND I want to know who that angry man was who wanted to fight us. What is his name and why can he tell us our school is bad when we get the best results. PETER: You are not the only one who has reported such comments. To be polite, very worrying and hardly likely to act as a boost to students who are disillusioned with their treatment, and the treatment of their schools

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 17:47 posted by Sio

    As a student who used to attend at chaucer I can honestly say that the place was not only poorly managed but there were cases of students not being properly disciplined however i have detwemined this was often when Morris was not there as said teacher was one of the schools most important assets. I myself rarely had a science teacher that stayed for more than a year due to the fact they kept on leaving, I was then subjected to a variety of substitute teachers one of which was incredibly racist and sexist mentioning on several ocassions how girls shouldn't be in education, he..........didnt last long.......needless to say one of the music teachers, of which there used to be two and suddenly there was only one because one of them left in year 9. Well this teacher lost many assignments of the class and well we had to spend a long....well....short really amount of time having to redo several months of work we only succeeded due to the amazing sub we had. The school building itself was also in need of heavy maintenance. The library for example, whenever it rained. Even when it was a drizzle. Buckets were out and we had to all sit and watch the rain going through the cieling. I remember once when I was in year 10 a student being sent jome for having NATURALLY ginger hair. Whilst anoher student with neon blue hair was being left alone. However it wasn't all bad. There was of course some good things too.....just some really cool teachers who got me through my GCES and without them i would've failed.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 15:33 posted by Two current year 13 students

    Having been at Chaucer for the last 7 years we are devastated to hear that it is closing. We have had many memories there and achieved extremely good GCSE results in 2012.

    It has to be said that the last year has been very different, in terms of the standard of teaching and the atmosphere of the school. Returning to Chaucer in September we were given our timetables, only to find out that we wouldn't have a teacher for the full amount of timetabled lessons. Nor were we given cover and some teachers weren't even qualified to teach the A-level for example Media and Child Development. As well as problems with A level English, having only three out of five hours a week. We also know there has been problems with GCSE classes too. Although, there are still many dedicated members of staff at Chaucer that are equally just as devastated at the announcement of the schools closure but will still help the current pupils to try and achieve their best.


    We were called to an assembly today where a man who we didn't recognise informed us of the schools new fate. We then found out he was in fact one of the senior staff. Yet we would not know this as none of the new members of staff have bothered to introduce themselves to sixth form or come over to sort out the reported issues that they have ignored.

    In the assembly it was more focused on how the school used to be before we were born! They got around telling us that the school is to close without a full explanation and didn't even take questions. The man then began complaining that he was getting "cynical" looks from years 11 and 13. Passing the blame of the management.

    The sad thing is that these year groups have been the ones affected and severely let down. Now these students are likely to underachieve through no fault of their own but due to lack of support and quality of teaching. The new management speak for the school but weren't actually there to see how warming and good the school was before the downward spiral.

    The closure of the school has and will have spoilt many of the students at Chaucer's education. They basically said that for year 11 and 13 it doesn't matter as we are leaving. But prioritising year 10 and 12 like they believe they are really going to stay with the state it has got itself in.

    We have to agree with the previous comment that mentions the focus is on uniform and petty things blaming us as students. When in fact it is clearly underlying problems with management and higher up. But by making out it is the behavior and uniform it has made it's own bad reputation and therefore fall in numbers, when actually the students at Chaucer are good and kind people.

    Although, we are disappointed with our last year at Chaucer, we have enjoyed our time at Chaucer and wouldn't of wanted to attend any other school. PETER: I warm to the pride you had in the'old' school, although other comments have a different view. Remember the good times!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 13:39 posted by susan

    What a sad state of affairs both my children went to Chaucer loved most of the teachers and went on to University thanks mostly due to the teaching they received.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 13:07 posted by Disgruntled mum

    My daughter is in year 9 and a consistently high achieving pupil - we actually opted for this school even though she passed her Kent test due to the wide range of subjects and opportunities they appeared to offer when we looked and compared schools, over the last 18 months I feel we've been consistently let down by the school and now with the current situation would love to get her out and into a grammar school but this looks highly unlikely - If KCC are going to close the school I really hope, but doubt they'll take into account the needs of the pupils as I'm seriously beginning to doubt that pupils needs come into education authorities consideration anywhere.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 09:14 posted by Mrs Standen

    mother of a year 8 pupil

    I think it is a utter disgrace that they can just come along and take this school away from our children. I bet none of their children attend this school no I didn't think so because it would be a different story then wouldn't it the council yet again let everybody down our children have made freinds and are all nicely settled and then come and rip a big hole in there lives I don't know how U can do your Job and sleep at night U disgust me because if I was U I would be walking with my head low I hope U have a good hard think about how this affects our kids education and lives and put your selves in our shoes and I hope it don't happen to your children. PETER: I hope the U refers to the council and not to me. I have nothing to do with KCC, ,but try and act on behalf of parents. Hence, my desire to see that the facts are brought out into the open.

  • Comment Link Monday, 24 February 2014 21:59 posted by Casey Hadlow

    I'd just like to say that I think this article is absurd! you will never truly know what Chaucer is like until you go there before you start presuming and jumping to conclusions about the school which i attend. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that Chaucer is NOT a bad school, yes it may have been going downhill for a little while now but at least they haven't given up, they have had new teachers coming in and out just to suit our needs, every individual in this school is incredible and very determined to get their grades, Every teacher in Chaucer has been trying so hard to help everyone who has needed support, a lot of progress has been made and if it stays open I guarantee that it will just continue to improve, the progress that we have made from how we were before hand is immaculate. People ask why I am not ashamed to go to this school but I am actually PROUD too. Our school is no different to anyone else's, we all get up early, make our own way there, we get there, we learn, we have breaks, some teachers we like, some teachers we don't. But you will find all of these things no matter which school you attend too, whether its a private, a grammar, or not. What makes any other school better than Chaucer? We are all positive, all work hard so we don't deserve all the intrusive articles and unnecessary comments. Don't judge the school on its poor past, focus on the schools improvements.PETER: You appear to be under a misapprehension. I have merely reported on the facts, I have expressed no view on the quality of what happens in the classroom, although if you read the other comments here, you will see some very different points of view. I quite understand your bitterness; one's school is a major influence on your life, for good or bad. To see it close around you, when none of it is the fault of the students is hard indeed.

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